CORONA, Calif. (AP) — The parents of a mentally ill man who was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer in a California Costco store called for him to be criminally charged as they recover from their own gunshot wounds.
Salvador Sanchez, a Los Angeles police officer, has said he opened fire because Kenneth French attacked him while Sanchez was holding his 1½-year-old son during a shopping trip to the warehouse store.
Russell and Paola French appeared in public Monday for the first time since the shooting that led to the death of their 32-year-old son on June 14 in Corona.
Family attorney Dale Galipo acknowledged at the news conference that Kenneth French likely pushed the officer, but said it wasn’t an attack and French immediately moved away.
Paola French told reporters she and her husband shouted at Sanchez not to shoot and that their son was not a threat.
“I was pleading for my son and our lives, but I was still shot in the back,” she said, fighting back tears. “What threat did I pose to him?”
Russell French, who lost a kidney after the shooting and remained in a hospital until last week, said he “begged” the officer not to fire.
“I told him we had no guns and my son was sick,” French said.
The family on Monday filed a claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against Sanchez and the Los Angeles Police Department.
“My client was assaulted. He was acting in self-defense,” said Ira Salzman, a lawyer for Sanchez. “It’s a horrible tragedy for both families.”
Galipo said he didn’t know if there was any exchange before the shooting. He urged authorities to release surveillance footage and cellphone video from the scene.
However, a Riverside County judge has issued an order that keeps the video out of the public eye for one year because of the investigation. Prosecutors were still deciding whether to file criminal charges.
Galipo said he believes Sanchez should face murder or manslaughter charges.
Corona police have said French attacked the officer without provocation
Galipo called it an “open-handed push or slap” to the policeman’s back.
“It certainly does not justify killing someone,” Galipo said.
A trained police officer should deescalate a situation before opening fire, “especially when you’re in Costco and there are children,” the lawyer said.
Another lawyer for Sanchez, David Winslow, said in June that French knocked the officer to the ground and he briefly lost consciousness.
When Sanchez came to, Winslow said, “he believed his life and his son’s life was in immediate danger” and fired his handgun.
Kenneth French lived with his parents. Family members believe he suffered from schizophrenia, Galipo said.
Paola French said her son was a “peaceful and loving soul” who was never aggressive.
Sanchez has been with the LAPD for seven years. He is on paid administrative leave that is mandatory after an officer-involved shooting.
Associated Press writer Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.